How to Grow and Care for Rose Bushes

Pink roses with ruffled petals clustered on rose bush in sunlight

The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

Rose bushes (Rosa spp.) are shrubs best known for their fragrant blossoms of red, pink, apricot, yellow, white, and variations. Some rose bushes stand erect, others trail, and a few even climb. Their woody stems are studded with sharp thorns. Roses have a reputation for being finicky plants, but some of this may stem from rose lovers' obsession with producing perfect blooms each season. In reality, roses are pretty tough survivors and will thrive with little to no care.

Plant roses in the spring, give them lots of water and nutrients, and they will bloom with abundant beauty through the summer. Learn how to grow and care for rose bushes year-round with this comprehensive guide.

Common Name  Rose
Botanical Name  Rosa spp.
Family Rosaceae
Plant Type  Deciduous shrub
Mature Size  6 inches to 20 feet in height and width
Sun Exposure  Full sun 
Soil Type  Loamy, well drained 
Soil pH  Slightly acidic to neutral (6.5 to 6.8)
Bloom Time  Spring, summer, fall 
Flower Color  White, red, pink, yellow, orange
Hardiness Zones  2 to 11, depending on type; USDA
Native Area  Europe, Asia, North America

Rose Care

Plant roses in deep holes partially filled with plenty of amended soil, for drainage, and follow the planting instructions for your rose type. Some recommend forming a cone at the bottom of the planting hole and spreading the roots over the cone. This encourages the roots to grow straight down because deeper is better.

When caring for established plants, start the spring season by removing material used for winter protection, then prune and feed the plants at the appropriate time for the local climate. This is also a good time to apply sprays to get a head start on disease and pest control. After the blooms fade later in the season, deadhead the plants to conserve their energy for more growth and blooms (for repeat-bloomers).

Orange roses with ruffled petals clustered on bush

The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

Small white roses with ruffled petals and small buds clustered in shade

The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

Bright pink rose with yellow center in sunlight closeup

The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

Pink rose buds closed and opening in sunlight

The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

Rose bush stem with light orange thorns surrounded by leaves

The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

Rose bush leaves with small serrated edges in sunlight

The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

Light

While roses like six hours of sun per day, it does matter what part of the day those six hours come from. Six hours of morning sun is preferable to six hours of afternoon sun, for two reasons:

  • First, rose foliage prefers to be dry. The quicker the dampness from the night is burned off the foliage, the less likely disease is to become a factor.
  • Second, afternoon sun is often excessively hot. Roses profit from some afternoon shade.

Soil

Roses grow best in loamy, well-drained soil with a pH ranging from 6.5 to 6.8. When improving the soil through soil amendments, do not forget to promote drainage by incorporating peat moss. Regardless of the year's season, apply 2 or 3 inches of mulch over the soil around rose bushes.

Water

Typically, it is best to water roses twice a week—and to water them thoroughly. It's better to water deeply twice per week than to water less deeply more often.

Avoid late-evening watering, which can foster powdery mildew, a very common disease among rose plants. By watering at the end of the day, you are not giving the sunlight a chance to dry things out before night falls. The result is that moisture hangs around all night, creating optimal conditions for powdery mildew. 

For the same reason, avoid watering roses from above. Getting the leaves wet will only invite an infestation of powdery mildew. Instead, apply the water at ground level.

Temperature and Humidity

Roses can survive periodic weather extremes, but they prefer temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit and a humidity range between 60 and 70 percent.

Fertilizer

A good rule of thumb for beginners is to feed roses monthly with a 10-10-10 rose fertilizer. Start feeding them when they are actively growing in spring, coinciding with pruning time.

Types of Roses

The Rosa genus includes over 100 different species of roses, which are classified as deciduous perennial shrubs. Most rose plants share the familiar general appearance, but their branch structure and size can vary widely, ranging from types with a few stiff, woody canes that get snipped back each year to wild masses of twisting, curling vines.

Among the 100+ species and many more cultivars available, roses are generally grouped into five broad categories:

  • Hybrid tea rose bushes are the most popular because they produce big roses on straight stems. 
  • Polyanthas produce dense clusters of small flowers on a dwarf rose bush. 
  • Floribunda rose bushes are a cross between the hybrid teas and the polyanthas. 
  • Grandifloras produce large rose clusters on long stems.
  • Old roses, also called old-fashioned or heirloom roses, were developed prior to 1867; all roses that were developed later are considered "modern" roses.
  • Species of wild roses include ancient varieties that grow naturally across the globe. Many wild roses perform well as landscape plants.

Pruning

Pruning rose bushes is one of the trickier operations for gardeners new to this aspect of horticulture. The proper type of pruners to use is a set of bypass pruners, not anvil pruners, which can crush the stems. Here are some pruning tips based on the climate in your region:

  • While some roses do not need pruning, most types benefit from judicious pruning in early spring, before the leaf buds open. The specific time to prune varies by climate.
  • In warm areas where there's little or no freezing in winter, you can prune roses in January.
  • Pruning in warm-winter climates may not be necessary, but it's always a good idea to clean up (removing dead and diseased wood) and thin plants as needed.
  • Some rose gardeners in warm climates strip all of the leaves from their plants in spring, causing the plants to go dormant for a short time and eliminating leaves troubled by disease or insect eggs. The plants emerge from this forced dormancy refreshed and ready for the growing season. If you try this technique, clean up all of the removed leaves and discard them (don't compost them) to prevent the spread of disease or insects.
  • If you live in a climate that freezes in winter, wait until April to prune, or until the leaf buds are full but not yet open. Forsythias bloom around this time, so keep an eye out for those bright yellow flowers.

Propagating Roses

New roses are typically planted in spring when daily temperatures are between 40 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. The best way to propagate roses from your existing bushes is to use plant cuttings and root them in a potting mix. Here's how:

  1. What You’ll Need: Healthy rose bush, scissors, plastic bag, soillless potting mix, containers, rooting hormone (optional)
  2. Where to Cut: Cut with scissors just below a node on a soft, green stem (cutting should be about 4 to 6 inches long).
  3. Maintaining the Cutting: Remove the bottom few leaves, dip stem in water then in rooting hormone (if desired), and slide stem about 2 inches into a container of potting mix. Keep warm and moist but not soggy.
  4. When to Plant the Cutting: In 3 weeks, transplant the cutting into another pot or the ground.

How to Grow Roses From Seed

Growing roses from seed is not a popular propagation method because it is pretty labor intensive and can take years to produce blooming bushes. To even sprout the seeds, they must be subjected to a period of cold called stratification. To ensure a faster crop of colorful flowers, it's best to grow roses from cuttings or bare root plants.

Overwintering

In cold climates, roses may need some winter protection. You can plant them near a house foundation for protection from the coldest wind while having them serve as foundation plantings.

In extreme cases, you can use the "Minnesota Tip" winterizing method of bending down the plant's canes so they lie in a trench in the soil, then covering the entire plant with soil and mulch or a pile of leaves for the winter.

For most roses, spring is the most important time for tending to roses, getting them in ship shape for the growing—and blooming—season.

Common Pests and Plant Diseases

When given proper water and nutrients (and grown in temperate climates), roses are pretty hardy plants that thrive with little trouble from pests and diseases. A few of the possible problems you might encounter include:

Powdery Mildew

Growing rose bushes in conditions where adequate spacing is not provided is an open invitation to powdery mildew. The best prevention is to let your roses breathe by not planting them too close together. Follow spacing requirements for each particular variety when purchasing rose bushes, as indicated on the plant label. Also, be sure to water early in the day rather than in the evening, as mentioned above.

Black Spot and Other Fungi

Fungus is another rose problem that generally occurs due to improper spacing and moisture accumulation. A good preventive practice is spraying the plants with lime sulfur in the spring to kill fungus spores (such as black spot) that may have grown in the fall and survived the winter.

Insect Pests

To keep insect pests off your roses, try companion planting with garlic. And once per week, while watering your roses, mix some dishwashing soap into the water and apply this homemade "insecticidal soap" to your bushes (of course, there are also true insecticidal soaps that you can buy).

Spring is a good time to spray with horticultural oil to destroy insect eggs and larvae.

How to Get Roses to Bloom

To prepare roses for blooming, give them adequate water and fertilizer as needed, making sure they are never in need of nourishment. Well-tended roses are much more eager to produce big, beautiful flowers all season long.

Removing wilted rose flowers (deadheading) will encourage re-blooming.

Some rose varieties are more likely to keep blooming all summer. These include hybrid tea roses, floribunda, grandiflora, climbing roses, and shrub roses.

Common Problems With Roses

Well-maintained plants also tend to have fewer of the common rose problems such as mildew or winter damage.

FAQ
  • How long can rose bushes live?

    Older, species of roses and some climbers tend to have the longest life (50 years or more) compared to just 6 to 10 for many modern varieties.

  • What are alternatives to rose bushes?

    If you love big, red flowers but don't want to grow roses, try peonies. The 'Red Charm Peony' produces gorgeous crimson blooms.

  • Can rose bushes grow indoors?

    You can grow roses in containers inside your home, but they need a lot of sunlight to thrive.

Article Sources
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  1. Will roses rebloom? New Mexico State University College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES).